Monday, 30th October 2017

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Assurance would’ve averted 1800km journey

Often hungry and thirsty, he had walked 120-odd kilometres, hitchhiked on 4 trucks and a van, and received a short ride on a friend’s motorcycle

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 4.04.20, 4:58 AM
  • Updated 4.04.20, 4:58 AM
  • 3 mins read
Praveen Kumar in Chitalwana on Thursday when he went to report at the health centre before going into quarantine Telegraph picture

Praveen Kumar is glad his Rajasthani sturdiness allowed him to complete his six-day, 1,800km odyssey home from workplace Bangalore.

But the welder says he would not have attempted it had the government stepped in to help migrant workers like him when they felt abandoned and up a creek following the lockdown.

“I would have stayed back in Bangalore if there was an assurance that the government would give people like me free rations and some money to pay the room rent,” he told The Telegraph on Friday over the phone.

Praveen reached his village Chitalwana in Rajasthan on April 1 night, six days after setting off on foot with four Rajasthani co-workers from Bangalore on March 26 night, two days into the lockdown.

Often hungry and thirsty, he had walked 120-odd kilometres, hitchhiked on four trucks and a van, and received a short ride on a friend’s motorcycle.

On the way, his four companions got taken away and put into quarantine by Maharashtra police, but he managed to slip away.

But, he acknowledges, help often came from unexpected places — an NGO that transferred Rs 5,000 into his bank account; a Gujarat police team that gave him milk, food and water; and truck drivers not all of whom demanded payment for giving him a lift.

After reaching Chitalwana, Jalore district, Praveen reported straightaway to the police like a good citizen and headed to the local health centre on April 2. He can meet his family only after his quarantine ends on April 16.

“I know I will be in quarantine even after the lockdown ends (on April 14), but at least I’m close to my family now,” he said.

He attributed his successful journey to his physical endurance — “We Rajasthanis walk a lot in our fields; I can walk 12km an hour” — and mental fortitude: “I never dwelt on what would happen if I got stranded.”

The temperature soared as he moved from one state to the other — four of them in all. “The Karnataka leg was easier because we were fresh. But the shortage of food, water and cash began to bother us.”

So, after an all-night walk of 70km from Bangalore to Tumkur, Praveen called the Aajeevika Bureau, an NGO that helps Rajasthani workers. Soon, his bank account received a cash transfer of Rs 5,000 — money he was able to draw from a roadside ATM.

At Chitradurga, where the group arrived on March 28 morning after a 200km truck ride, a social worker gave them enough biscuits, bananas and water for a couple of days.

“But I feel sad for Sahi Ram (his friend from Barmer district) and my other companions who couldn’t make it,” Praveen said.

The Telegraph

A police team intercepted the group as they reached Palghar in Maharashtra, close to the Gujarat border, on March 30 evening on a truck.

While the others were sent to a government shelter on the same truck, to be released only at the end of the lockdown, Praveen managed to hide himself until he found a milk truck heading to Gujarat.

“I found some space inside the driver’s cabin until I reached Palanpur. There were police checkpoints in between, but I escaped their dragnet mainly because I was inside the cabin,” he said.

On the way he could see other migrant workers travelling on trucks and vans or just walking along the highway.

The Gujarat temperature of 39 degrees was not as big a problem as the lack of food and water.

“But at a checkpoint, when I told the police I had not eaten for hours, they gave me a sachet of milk and some food and water. Otherwise there was nothing available anywhere,” Praveen said.

Once he reached Palanpur, Praveen knew it was just a matter of time. “I climbed onto a vegetable truck on April 1. By then I was extremely tired,” he said.

Still, once the driver dropped him at Deesa, he decided to walk.

“I kept telling myself not to think too much and began walking. After covering 35km, I found a camper (van) in Dhanera that agreed to drop me at Nenava on the Rajasthan border,” he said.

Praveen walked about 18km to Sanchore in Rajasthan where a friend gave him a motorbike ride to Chitalwana.

“But I told myself I won’t see my family until I had completed my quarantine,” Praveen said.